09 February 2024

US museum returns Ghana artefacts looted 150 years ago by British forces

09 February 2024

Seven royal artefacts looted 150 years ago by British colonial forces from Ghana’s ancient Asante kingdom and kept by a US museum have been returned.

It is the latest in a series of stolen treasured items to be repatriated to African countries.

Looted from British-colonised Ghana in the 19th century before being transferred to the Fowler Museum at the University of California in the 1960s, the artefacts included an elephant tail whisk, an ornamental chair made of wood, leather and iron, two gold stool ornaments, a gold necklace and two bracelets.

“We are here … (because) the white man came into Asanteman to loot and destroy it,” Otumfuo Osei Tutu, the king of the Assante kingdom in Ghana’s largest city of Kumasi, said at a presentation ceremony.

After decades of resistance from European and Western governments and museums, the efforts of African countries to repatriate stolen artefacts are paying off with the increasing return of treasured pieces. Activists, though, say thousands more are still out of reach.

The royal items were first received by the kingdom on Monday, which marked the 150th anniversary of when British colonial forces sacked the Asante city in 1874. That was when four of the items were looted while the other three were part of an indemnity payment made by the Asante kingdom to the British, the museum said.

The repatriation of the artefacts to Ghana “signifies the return of our souls”, said Kwasi Ampene, a lecturer who helped negotiate their return.

All seven items are being returned unconditionally and permanently though the kingdom allowed their replicas to be made, the museum added.

“We are globally shifting away from the idea of museums as unquestionable repositories of art, as collecting institutions entitled to own and interpret art based primarily on scholarly expertise, to the idea of museums as custodians with ethical responsibility,” said Silvia Forni, director of the Fowler Museum.

The items are seen as symbols of prestige and reverence for the Asante ruler and having them back is a dream come true, according to Samuel Opoku Acheampong, a staff of the Asante palace.

“Our forefathers and our fathers told us about the artefacts,” Mr Acheampong said. “And ever since, as a kid, I had the vision that one day we shall have all these artefacts back to our Asante nation.”

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